Alabama State Board of Education Approves Change in Literacy Coursework

The Alabama State Board of Education has approved a new literacy coursework for Science of Reading in the state’s teacher preparation programs.

The approved change, passed with a unanimous vote, follows years of the state emphasizing literacy scores, particularly in the lower grades.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey specified that the standards would apply to elementary teachers, collaborative special education teachers, and potentially other areas.

Primarily, the focus is on early childhood and elementary teachers, Mackey noted.

The Science of Reading encompasses research on reading and writing, addressing issues related to literacy. The definition provided by The Reading League includes phonemic awareness and letter instruction but does not emphasize larger speech units like syllables.

The newly adopted standards prohibit the use of the “three-cueing” system in higher education institutions and K-12 schools. This system teaches reading through meaning, structure, syntax, and visual cues.

Three-cueing, associated with balanced literacy, encourages students to guess unfamiliar words based on contextual clues, as reported by the Hechinger Report.

Per APM Reports, for years, schools did not teach the skills related to the Science of Reading. After Hanford’s reporting, 15 states had prohibited three-cueing by May 2023.

HB 173, sponsored by Rep. Leigh Hulsey, aimed to eliminate three-cueing with exceptions. The bill passed the House but did not progress further in the legislative session.

The Senate Education Policy Committee’s substitute clarifies that the ban only pertains to foundational reading skills, not background knowledge and vocabulary instruction.

Scarborough’s Reading Rope serves as a visual representation to develop proficient reading skills, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

Hulsey stated that her bill aligns with the board’s standards and plans to reintroduce it next year.

She emphasized the importance of teaching children how to read using decoding strategies and phonics for lifelong reading success, not mere guessing.

Exceptions in the bill primarily apply to older students and those with learning challenges.

The Literacy Task Force members highlighted teacher training and implementation challenges in advancing literacy instruction in Alabama.

Mackey mentioned prior feedback received and the absence of additional public comments on the approved version months after the board signaled its intent to approve.

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